Kerstin Forsberg is protecting threatened giant manta rays by working with local communities to promote awareness and appreciation of these gentle giants and to assist fishermen find alternative income through ecotourism.
With their seven-metre wingspan, giant manta rays are a captivating sight. “They are just majestic,” says Lima-based conservation biologist Kerstin Forsberg, who has made it her mission to safeguard the future of this charismatic but vulnerable species.
In her native Peru, overfishing was putting manta numbers under severe pressure, especially as they are extremely slow to reproduce. Caught across the world for their gills and meat, giant mantas are classified as having an elevated risk of extinction by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Giant mantas are extremely vulnerable and, in particular, marine environments are severely threatened. We need to engage more people in conserving them. There is a lot of work to do.
“They’re marvellous flagships for all vulnerable marine species,” says Forsberg, whose Planeta Océano organization has worked with fishermen, schools, communities and the government to change perceptions of mantas, not just their ecological importance but also their value as tourist attractions. In 2015, a massive manta caught by Peruvian fishermen made international headlines and brought public support for Forsberg’s call to create legal protections for these animals. Building on this momentum, Forsberg’s persistence led to a government ban on captures.
While her Rolex Award will enable Forsberg to involve more fishermen in the project, and create locally driven ecological monitoring, her long-term aim is to develop a model for sustainable community-based initiatives worldwide.
Schools in northern Peru participating in the Planeta Océano educational outreach programme.
Number of pups produced by giant mantas every two to seven years.